Shoot: 14th April 2018
Location: Kielder Observatory
Stargazing at the ‘Invisible’: Photography and the Power of Obscured Light – A Research Partnership with Kielder Observatory.
PhD research by Helen McGhie. Northern Centre of Photography. University of Sunderland.
Shoot: 14th April 2018
Location: Kielder Observatory
“How do contemporary imaging devices and the forms in which images are displayed affect our perception of Mars? How are scientists and engineers visually exploring, experiencing and navigating this uninhabitable terrain? Can we better understand this virtual landscape through immersive imaging techniques, or are these simply illusions? At what point does the glitch invade these immersive spaces, throwing us back into the realm of the image? And finally, can the glitch be seen as a method towards another kind of visibility, enabling us to ‘see’ and encounter Mars in productive ways? Through the analysis of contemporary representations of the Martian terrain, Mars, Invisible Vision and the Virtual Landscape: Immersive Encounters with Contemporary Rover Images offers a new contribution to studies of the digital and virtual image. Specifically addressing immersive image forms used in Mars exploration the research is structured around four main case studies: life-size illusions such as panoramas; 3D imaging; false colour imaging; and the concept of a ‘Mars Yard’. The thesis offers a new understanding of human interaction with a landscape only visible through a screen, and how contemporary scientific imaging devices aim to collapse the frame and increase a sense of immersion in the image. Arguing that these representations produce inherently virtual experiences, their transportive power is questioned, highlighting the image as reconstructed – through the presence of a glitch, illusion is broken, revealing the image-as-image. This thesis takes an interdisciplinary approach in which scientific images are analysed through the prism of photography’s relationship to reality, theories of vision and perception, representations of landscape, and digital and virtual image theory. At the heart of this thesis is the act of looking; critical and speculative writing is used to convey immersive encounters with images at NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (USA); University College London’s Regional Planetary Imaging Facility; Airbus Defence and Space (UK); the photographic archive at the V&A; and the Panorama Mesdag (Netherlands). The research re-examines scientific forms of images against examples from the history of visual culture (be it art or popular culture) to draw parallels between different ways of seeing, representing and discovering the unknown. The eyes of the Mars rovers provide viewpoints through which we regard an alien terrain: windows upon unknown worlds. Rover images bridge a gap between what is known and unknown, between what is visible and invisible. The rover is our surrogate, an extension of our vision that portrays an intuitively comprehensible landscape. Yet this landscape remains totally out of reach, millions of miles away. This distance is an impenetrable boundary – both physically and metaphorically – that new technologies are trying to break. Mars, Invisible Vision and the Virtual Landscape offers a two-way impact, constituting a new approach to the relationship between real and imagined images in order to demonstrate that the real Mars, however it is represented and perceived, remains distant and detached.” (2017)
Eldridge, L. (2017) Mars, Invisible Vision and the Virtual Landscape: Immersive Encounters with Contemporary Rover Images. PhD thesis. Royal College of Art. Available at: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/82969436.pdf (Accessed: 4 September 2018).
The book discusses how photography has recorded our expeditions of space. From Daguerreotypes to digitally mediated images, photography has mapped geographic and geological features as scientific data. Frank Borman (commander of Apollo 8, first manned flight to the moon) writes the preface, commenting on the highly technological advancements made to American industry due to the space programme. He speaks of the only thing holding back further work is the financial expense.
“The exploration of space and major technological advances have made us all explorers of the cosmos. We have witnessed the marvels of other worlds – craters on the Moon, huge canyons on Mars, active volcanoes on Io, and the enigmatic rings of Saturn.” (1981, p. 9)
Images are representations, and photographic technology mediates our vision, the author refers to a Soviet spacecraft that photographed the surface of Venus where the atmosphere is one hundredth the density of Earth’s atmosphere, floodlights might be required to view through the thickness. Experience/oral histories enhance our understanding of these images, i.e. the moon has no atmosphere, nothing to diffuse sunlight into twilight. David Scott (commander on Apollo 15) describes the sensations of travelling around the moon, where bright sunlight suddenly drops into darkness. As viewers on earth, we require this storytelling to imagine such a sensation. Images of the moon are described as disappointing by Astronaut David Scott, who compares the photographic representation to the memory of viewing the extraordinary landscapes.
“But imagine stepping out onto a surface where landforms and scales cover the lunar landscpe – one sees an interesting crater in the distance – but how far away is it? There are no trees, shrubs, telephone poles, or houses, to provide perspective.” – (1981, p. 10)
The book talks about the colour of the sky, how the sky is blue on Earth (due to the atmosphere) and it appears black in space. It’s difficult to decipher colour of the sky on other planets, but attempts were made with the Viking landers when photographing Mars – colour charts were on the side of the spacecraft, to make comparisons of the surface and the sky (which appears pinkish due to particles of red dust in the atmosphere). Published in the early 1980’s, the text refers to recent ‘technological advancements’ of recording non-visible light, something that has enormously advanced since.
The catalogue includes image plates dating from the 70s and early 80s, images are mostly from NASA. The catalogue feels like an early attempt where ‘data’ photographs are used to capture the public imagination.
Grey Art Gallery. (1081) The photography of space exploration. New York: New York University.